If you’re an artist or a writer—or both—then you know what I’m talking about when I say “inner critic.” It’s not just a way of describing a tendency toward self-judgment. For us, the inner critic is a loud, nasty, disgusting creature who invades our thoughts, whips us mercilessly, and sometimes decides to chain us up in the dungeon.
That might sound extreme, but if you’re an artist or a writer, you know how accurate that description is.
When you’re in that kind of critical head space it can make you feel insane, and like you’re the only one who’s ever gone through this. But, as a coach who works with highly creative people, I can assure you the inner critic visits all of us. Not only that, but it uses the same three arguments over and over as a form of attack. Each one is surprisingly simple, which is probably why they work so well. They have universal appeal to the most vulnerable parts of any human personality.
Here are the Big Three:
You’re Not Working Fast Enough/Doing Enough Work
This is basically the “you’re not enough” judgment twisted just a tiny bit so that it’s tailored to the side of every artist that reaches for achievement and rejoices in a job well done. Artists are craftsmen and craftswomen when it comes right down to it, and nothing fulfills us so deeply as finishing a piece of work we know we can be proud of. But good solid work takes time, whether it’s a painting or a novel or a finely-built cabinet. And sometimes the precise details take more time than we wagered on when we began the project. This is when the inner critic shows up and begins carping at us that we’re too slow, the work we’re doing amounts to too little, and there is no way to ever catch up.
When we feel rushed and we’re focused on what’s lacking, we not only tend to become sloppy in our work, but we lose all the joy. We miss out on that amazing flow state that every artist strives for when working on a project.
Do the opposite of what your inner critic says. Slow down and focus on one thing at a time.
Whatever You’re Making Isn’t in Demand Right Now
This inner critic attack will take you right back to middle school. Certain things are “in” at the moment, very particular styles are cool, and whatever it is you’re doing very obviously doesn’t fall into those categories. This kind of attack tends to come after you fall down a rabbit hole on the internet reading about the smashing/record-breaking/chart-topping success of another artist. Sure, there’s always a little bit of personal green-eyed monster in the mix, but most of it can be chalked up to the over-exaggeration of the media and unreal expectations of what success means in our culture.
There is an audience for your work, no matter what you’re writing or making. Humans have been making and enjoying art with each other for thousands of years—shockingly enough, even before the advent of social media, branding strategies, and Google analytics.
Keep working at your thing. Get off the internet for a while. Spend the extra time working at your thing even more.
Whatever You’re Doing Has Already Been Done Before
Yes, this argument directly contradicts the argument above, but you have to remember that the inner critic is anything but logical. The inner critic is emotionally stunted, addicted to drama, and insanely paranoid. You can’t expect it to be consistent in its arguments. It will use whatever works, and boy does this last one really work. I can’t tell you how many of my clients have told me they are seriously considering giving up on their novel because it’s not THE most original story the world has ever seen.
While we each really are as unique as a snowflake, the fact remains that we are all still made out of snow. In order for your story to strongly move someone else, it has to strike a chord of remembrance deep within them. And that can only happen if it echoes one of the countless stories that are part of our human heritage.
Start reading more, and start reading a little bit of everything. The more widely you read the sooner you will discover how all stories are connected, and how your story is just one little piece of a larger whole.
Whenever the inner critic pops up in your mind it’s a sign that something is out of balance in your creative life. It’s an indication that it’s time to tune into yourself and get back to center with your creative work.
Take a deep breath and thank your inner critic for stopping by. And then gently close the door on it and get back to work.
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